Sunday, April 08, 2001

Xavier University

By Michael J. Graham, S.J.
President, Xavier University

        Winston Churchill once remarked that democracy is the worst form of government ever devised by the mind of man - except for all the others. The SAT is something like that. Intended to assist college admission officers in predicting college success, the SAT has come under fire in recent years. And in many cases, deservedly so.

        Repeated studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between SAT scores and race, social class and income levels. Hence, high SAT scores often measure preparation to take the SAT more than such important ingredients to college success as ability, drive and desire.

        Yet, there is a clear place in admission decisions for standardized tests such as the SAT and the ACT. With the tremendous variance among types of high schools in this country, with very noticeable occurrences of grade inflation on a national level, with the ever increasing diversity of college applicants in terms of race and ethnicity, but also in terms of level of preparedness, the SAT can assist admission officers in making their important decisions.

        But it should only assist the making of those decisions, not drive them through computer screenings or other such decision-making systems based solely or completely on standardized test scores. Other measures of academic success need to be added to the mix. How have these potential students performed in their high schools and how rigorous was the curriculum there? What do their teachers and guidance counselors say about them? What else have they done, in school and out of school, especially as it relates to leadership, service, work and the balancing of these complex commitments?

        These and other qualities ought to be taken into consideration in determining how a potential student will do in college. More than that, however, such considerations also help a college or university optimize a variety of important characteristics across the entire freshman class, from race to socioeconomic status to geographical origin to service to leadership to academic ability and achievement.

        It is indeed unfortunate that colleges and universities are often distinguished one from the other by the average SAT scores of their incoming freshman class. Colleges ought instead to be judged by the successful outcomes of their students, if for no other reason than students' SAT scores become irrelevant by the time they begin looking to their life after college in grad school or a career.

        Personally, I am much more impressed by schools which opt to bring in a broad range of students from a variety of different backgrounds, but which graduate superb people who contribute positively to their professions and to their communities.

        That sort of transformation ought to be at the heart of American higher education. And I know of no standardized test yet devised that accurately measures it.


Miami University
Northern Kentucky University
Thomas More College
University of Cincinnati
- Xavier University